“I.T.”: stereotyped B-movie show how the values in the information technology world have changed since I worked in it

I.T.”, by John Moore, is indeed a formulaic B-movie about computer hacking, but it manages to make a few important points about how the world of “information technology” and the people who work in it, has changed since I made a living at it from 1970-2001.

The film boasts Irish James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan as executive producer, and Brosnan plays tech magnate Mike Regan, who behaves more like Donald Trump than a silicon valley executive, because he is aging. Regan has formed an aviation company that will provide an air-taxi service like Uber and wants to take it public. He’s hired a personal I.T. consultant Ed Porter (young Australian actor James Frecheville) to handle the GUI in his office. But Ed takes an interest in Mike’s 17 year old daughter (Stefanie Scott) and starts showing up in situations where he’s not invited. Mike gets irritated and fires Ed, who then takes revenge by hacking Mike’s smart home and company, even interfering with his SEC filing.

Until the late 1980s or so, “IT” was dominated by mainframe computing with a lot of batch cycles and character driven online terminals. Things started to migrate toward minis and PC’s partly because of the military at first, and most of us remember the changes as the Internet was unleashed in the 1990s. The I.T. world made some resurgence before Y2K and then tended to fragment into a “W2” contractor-driven market was demand and supply for older expertise dwindled. This actually hurt when this kind of maturity was needed to build a technically reliable health care system that we call Obamacare. Had a better job been done in putting it together, it might not have become a flashpoint in the 2016 elections. In fact, in the distant past, the polite term for “I.T.” used to be “management information systems”, along with the stodgy “systems development life cycle”.

When you meet Frecheviile’s character, you want to see him play a good person instead of a villain. Why not cast him as an entrepreneur inventing a new security company doing away with ransomware once and for all. Physically, at about 26, he is quite “cute”. But it appears, by comparison on Google images, that he must have waxed his chest for this film (like Steve Carell, the “man-o-lantern” in “The 40 year Old Virgin” (2006)). .

I do remember seeing Brosnan in “Die Another Day” in 2002, some time after 9/11, a film that depicted North Korea as supply terrorists. (Then there is “Red Dawn II”, and North Korea’s nuclear threat today.) Brosnan was real hairy then.

This new film was shot largely in Ireland. There are sets made up to present the Kennedy Center with a backdrop of the Capitol and Washington Monument, that obviously look fake.

Name:  “I.T.”
Director, writer:  John Moore
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant
Length:  98
Rating:  R
Companies:  Voltage
Link:  official  don’t confuse with a 2017 horror film “It” which I haven’t seen yet, or with the Stephen King novel and TV movie.

(Posted: Friday, May 26, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT)

Tyler Cowen: “The Complacent Class” waits for that knock on the door, maybe

Tyler Cowen, somewhat conservative economist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and a New Jersey state chess champion, has a new and brief book “The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream”.

Cowen believes in a cyclical behavior of peoples throughout history.  When a major culture, such as the U.S., becomes more stable and “safer”, people innovate less, and wealthier or better-off people become more insular.  It becomes harder for less fortunate people to participate meaningfully in the system and to advance.  I advanced this idea myself in my own “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book (2014).  That tends to lead ultimately to breakdowns and new cycles of unrest and instability.  Although, actually, the uncertainty is generated by shortsighted behavior by the better-off, as we saw with the 2008 financial crisis, where the “rich” goaded the “poor” into taking on debts they could not pay back (the subprime scandal).

I can relate to this personally.  I did get an “inheritance” at the end of 2010, so I have kept on writing without demanding much compensation for it.  Otherwise, I might have more incentive to take risks and create “real businesses” that can actually employ others.  Or I might have more incentive to have a bigger personal stake in both “other people’s causes” and in actual volunteer efforts (and be willing to demonstrate and sometimes take other people’s bullets).

That fits into the idea of populism and anti-elitism that helped Donald Trump win the election and helped Britain leave the EU.

Cowen does attribute some of today’s complacency to the Internet, and the way it can lead to people of like minds to clump together and ignore larger truths.  This can become expressed in “assortative matching”  even in dating (like using fitbit watch data in real time) and marriage, but it can also lead to aggregations of fake news that can sway politics.

The Internet also tends to make some people less interested in the physical world, as he notes by talking about how some people used to collect records and CD’s of classical music (as I did) but now can depend on the Cloud. Economically, the use of “free” content is a mixed bag, as it gives more people a chance to be heard (as it did for me), but makes it harder for many people to make a real living at it (outside of the idea of “Make the A-List”).

He also notes that the level of violence and rebellion has been greater in the past (like the 1960s and early 1970s) than now, but that, as the Black Lives Matter movement (in response to police profiling) shows, the extreme indignation of some people can make this kind of energy come back, and burst into the lives of the sheltered.

He often mentions gay rights, going back to Stonewall in 1969, which was pretty energetic.  He gives a nod to gay conservative writer Andrew Sullivan, and notes that gay marriage or abstract equality was not particularly compelling as an idea until after Y2K.

It was easier in the past for someone with “nothing” too work him or herself into wealth that it is today.  He notes that even in authoritarian countries like China, it is easier for some people to do this today than it is in the U.S., where people are no longer as “hungry” for wealth or even for others.

Cowen is not optimistic that the Internet, which gave me a second career as a self-made journalist-pundit, will continue to be the source of truth for those who want to store it there.  He thinks crime could undermine the entire digital revolution, and be the Big Rip of our complacency.  The Great Moderation will indeed end.

Cowen mentions the issue of campus protective environments (example is “Mizzou”) but doesn’t get into the issue of speech codes, micro-aggressions and trigger warnings the way he could. Campus environments are promoting complacency while pretending to favor activism.

 

Author: Tyler Cowen
Title, Subtitle: The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream
Publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1250108692
Publication: St. Martin’s Press, 240 pages, hardcover, 9 chapters, endnotes, index
Link: marginal revolution

(Posted: Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 3 PM)

“Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray”: the self-help business, and tragedy

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Name: “Enlighten Us”
Director, writer: Jenny Carchman
Released: 2016/12
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed: 2016/12/3, CNN
Length 93
Rating NA
Companies: Big Pond, CNN Films
Link: official site

I remember driving a rental car in central Montana on vacation in May 1981, and hearing on the car radio about a seminar on “feeling good about yourself” at a Days Inn in Helena, about 120 miles from where I was, on the car radio. With no hotel reservations (long before the days of smartphones) I headed right to it. Next day I would visit the open pit mine in Butte and it snowed.

I remember the session well. I also recall a friend in Dallas, around 1985, who signed up for a program to sell motivational tapes (in the days of VHS and Beta) Amway-style, and he even headed to Waco for a day long training seminar on it.

And I even get rude calls from my book publisher on why I don’t try to set myself up to do this to sell books!

And I’ve fielded ads for plenty of those weekend hotel seminars (after retirement) on all kinds of get-rich schemes, like cash flow management, for one.

Yet, some people make a go of the self-help industry. One of these is James Ray, subject of the CNN documentary “Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray” (2016), directed by Jenny Carchman, aired on CNN Saturday night Dec. 3 (with commercials).

Ray’s business model led to the deaths of three customers in his sweat lodges, near Sedona AZ in October 2009, from heat strokes. The last segment of the documentary walks through the event, and Ray is interviewed, explaining how his life collapsed in fifteen minutes. No, he hadn’t thought of this. He would serve two years in prison for negligent homicide.
The film also gives a strong biography of Ray, including his strict upbringing in an evangelical family in Oklahoma. Over the years, he did sell many books, like “The Secret” which, as I recall, deals with “the Law of Attraction”.

He could be dominating in these sessions, challenging customers as to why they were there.

The documentary covers his gradual restart of his speaking career after getting out of prison (the release is shown).

Wikipedia attribution link, here PD photo by Doug Dolde

(Posted: Sunday, December 4, 2016 at 6:30 PM EST)

“American Honey”: teens sell door-to-door to support an on-the-road commune

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Name: American Honey
Director, writer:  Andrea Arnold
Released:  2016
Format:  1.37:1
When and how viewed:  2016/10/11 Angelica Mosaic evening small crowd
Length 163
Rating R
Companies: A24, Film4
Link: official

American Honey”, by Andrea Arnold, presents the world of door-to-door selling, which I had thought antiquated, with a twist:  it’s done by a vagabond of teenagers and young adults with a kind of on-the-road intentional community.

Star (Sasha Lane), some “white trash” from Texas nearly gets arrested by security in a suburban Kansas City supermarket, when she gets “hired” by the crew in the parking lot.  It’s led by Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and Krystal (Riley Keough), who labels her as a “honey”.

“Hiya” Shia is now 30, and begins to look it, with just a slight pot,  You want him to remain perfect, a role model, even with his past scuffles with the law.  Imdb says LaBeouf got twelve tattoos during the filming (or were they the new temporary digital tattoos from Microsoft, the so-called DuoSkin?)

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Most of the rest of the teens are tattooed and rather guttural, although that doesn’t always hold when they hit the road.

The crew has a business selling magazine subscriptions.  I can remember being approached and buying one of these around 1979 after moving to Dallas, and I even bought an unnecessary life insurance policy this way.  Two of the salesmen, it turned out, played chess, and I actually lost a game with White to one of them (I think to a Two Knights Defense – slurp!).

The crew starts out by canvassing one of the most opulent neighborhoods in suburban Kansas City, around the fountains.  I would think rich people, having a lot to lose, would refuse to admit door-to-door people out of fear of home invasion.  Even saying that is dangerous and seems to invite radical class warfare – insularity of the rich would keep a lot of people from being able to make a living at all.  But this one rich woman admits them and offers them refreshments out of Christian radical hospitality – until Star acts up around her kids and everybody gets kicked out.  The sales pitches play up the hokey poverty and charity angles.

Later the crew goes on the road to the North Dakota oil fields, with a stop in the Bad Lands.  Here it’s appropriate to note the artistic decision to shoot this 16-minute Altman-like film in 1.37:1, in order to focus on the closeups, 40s style.  But I wanted to see the outdoor stuff.  There’s a spectacular shot of downtown Kansas City, which I remember well from my graduate school days in the 1960s at KU (in Lawrence, KS).

With oil workers, the crew encourage blue collar mentality, which could make sales easier;  and finally they wind up selling to poor native Americans, who have nothing to lose (except diabetes).

Gradually, and predictably, Star begins to offer her body to make sales.  She starts developing an uneven relationship with Jake.  She teaches Jake how to use his pistol, which Jake uses to rescue Star from a barbecue where she may be about to be raped.  But the “home invasion” never happens.  The kids actually don’t want to harm anyone.

The film also shows a couple thunderstorms, and I wondered if there was going to be a tornado sequence (like the frogs in  Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia”.  This movie also reminded a bit of Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” (1993).   Another comparison would be Brent Huff’s 2002 comedy “100 Mile Rule”, about the “always be closing” aspect of sales culture.   (There was another Brent in the screenwriting group in Minneapolis in 2003 who was floating a script “I Hate Speed-dating”.  I wonder if it got anywhere.)

Near the end, there is a curious scene where a female bear accosts Star outdoors, and lovingly sniffs Star, as if to tell Star that she (Star) is pregnant.  Will animal mothers know these things about moms of other species.

As for the sales culture in the film – it presents the idea that a lot of people live in a world where everything is about manipulating others to play ball with you.  That’s how Donald Trump (who gets mentioned) thinks.

Pictures: Mine, 2006 (Flint Hills, KS and KC Star press)

(Posted: Wednesday, Oct, 12, 2016, 10:30 AM EDT)

“The Intern”: a comedy about a 70-year-old retiree who seeks “real life” in a fashion firm

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Name: The Intern
Director, writer:  Nancy Meyers
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length 121
Rating PG-13
Companies: Warner Brothers, Dune-Ratpac
Link: official site


The Intern”, written and directed by Nancy Meyers, opens with 70-year-old Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) appraising himself in a ritzy New York apartment and explaining what it feels like to live as a retired widower, having already seen the world and finished his bucket list.  He keeps his suits and ties in immaculate order, as well as his NYC coop (in contrast to me).  He needs something to do, involving real people.

He finds an e-commerce fashion firm in Brooklyn, “About the Fit” (a little snazzier than the real life “Bindle and Keep”, July 29), which has an “outreach” to senior citizens by letting them “intern”.

He goes through the interviews and demonstrates his “people skills”, especially when the youngest manager, Justin (Nat Woff) asks him what he wants to be doing in ten years and then apologetically withdraws the cookie-cutter question. Other young managers include Jason (Adam Devine, the “Man-o-Lantern 2”).

But most of the film revolves around his working with CDO Jules Olsen (Anne Hathaway). He own husband (Anders Holm) had become a stay-at-home dad to give her time to grow the film, but her personal life is creating enough noise that Wall Street wants her to step down from the startup.  She’s inclined to do so to save her marriage.  In the meantime, Whittake has developed a romance with massage therapist Fiona (Rene Russo).  In one sequence, he participates in a fake home breakin to save Jules from an embarrassing email on her own computer (remind you of Hillary Clinton’s server scandal?)

The film is stronger as it starts than as it follows through its 121 minutes.  There’s a real question of whether you need to join with other people in a bureaucratic environment to accomplish things.  There are real issues of keeping up appearances.

The film should be viewed in light of Ross Perlin’s 2011 book “Intern Nation”.

(Published: Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, at 3:15 PM EDT)

“Suited”: a tailoring business in Brooklyn meets the needs of hard-to-fit customers (including transgender)

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Name: Suited
Director, writer:  Jason Benjamin
Released:  2016/6
Format:  standard 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  HBO GO, 2016/7/28 thru Xfinity
Length 76
Rating NA   (PG-13?)
Companies: HBO Documentary, Sundance
Link: official site 

Suited” (2016, directed by Jason Benjamin, produced by Lena Dunham)  , a new HBO Documentary (premiered in June), traces the setup and work of a tailor company in Brooklyn called “Bindle and Keep”, which emphasizes making custom suits for people, especially transgender men (female to male).

The company’s niche is based on the idea that many men cannot easily find a suit that fits off the rack in conventional department stores of men’s shops.   The earliest scenes depict the entrepreneurial owner (himself a female-to-male) examining the new work space, apparently near Liberty Center in Brooklyn.

Later he works with various clients and finally helps with a wedding (which is female to a female-to-male trans, which I could have viewed as heterosexual – the marriage might have been “legal” even in the past, before gay marriage became legal in New York and in all 50 states).

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I can remember, as a teen and college age person growning up in the DC area, going to Schwartz, a factory  in Baltimore for most of my suits.  When I started working, I think I had seven suits: chartreuse, gray, brown, dark blue, black, and plaid blue, and then an ultra-cheap second gray.  I do remember the fitting rooms.  I used to hate them as a child (all the accidental needle pricks).  There was some mild pressure when I worked for Sperry Univac (1972-1974, in New Jersey) to dress up better and be willing to spend more on clothes – which you never really had to do.  I never bought the idea that you could make a less “desirable” (according to the notions of a few decades ago) bod by “covering it up” with snazzy clothes.  But even in the 70s, some progressive women tried to encourage less “competitive men” (like me) to “go hippy” in order to “make up for it.”

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The film reminds me of the 19th century meta-novel or poioumenon, “Sartor Resartus” by Thomas Carlyle (“The Tailor Re-Railored”).  I can remember plenty of little jokes about “sartorial taste” early in my own working life.

HBO had created a “Get Suited” contest , where (LGTBQ) youth were asked to submit videos to win a trip to NYC and get a suit from the company.

Here are three clips from the contest:

Brenda:

Will:

Jaehla:

Published: Friday, July 29, 2016 at 11:15 AM EDT.

First picture: Redhook area of Brooklyn, mine, Feb. 2013;  second: BargeMusic in East River, near Brooklyn Bridge, mine, June 2011.